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Get your dockside bar stocked for summer

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Whether you drink alcohol or not, enjoying a relaxing glass of something slightly indulgent is a mainstay of life at the cottage. Whatever “happy hour” means to you—watching the sunset from the deck or dock, drink in hand, sharing dinner and drinks with family and friends, or dancing to music under the stars—we’ve got some tips to make bartending at the cottage easy, relaxed, and blissfully uncomplicated.

Keep it simple (and fun!)

Leave the fussy multi-ingredient layered cocktails at home. If you feel so inclined, come up with one simple signature cocktail, and let guests know that if they want something else can bring they can own supplies. A couple of easy-as-pie suggestions: a Pimm’s Cup (Pimm’s, ginger ale or Sprite, and cucumber spears, a lemon wedge and any other fruit you have around), a Dark and Stormy (rum and ginger beer) or a Salty Dawg (gin or vodka and grapefruit juice or grapefruit soda served in a glass rimmed with celery salt).

Also, everything is more fun with bubbles, so experiment by adding different juices or syrups to sparkling wine or soda water.

Stick to the basics

If you want to have a more fully stocked bar, start with alcohols that both mix well on their own and form the basis of classic cocktails. Having vodka (for screwdrivers and Bloody Marys/Caesars), gin (for gin and tonics), light rum (for Cuba Libres), and rye (for rye and gingers) on hand will give you lots of options for mixed drinks. If you’re feeling ambitious, add in dry and sweet vermouth (for martinis and Manhattans), silver or gold tequila (for margaritas) and a fruity liqueur like Cointreau, peach schnapps or creme de cassis (for sipping or combining with mixers like orange juice or soda water).

Along with the hard stuff, stock some good craft beer, and red, white, or sparkling wine. Throw in a bottle of bitters if you’re going to make Manhattans or Old Fashioneds.

Add in mixers

Not everyone drinks alcohol, and those that do don’t always want it straight up. Make sure you’ve got a selection of pop, especially the ones that mix well: cola, ginger ale or ginger beer, tonic, and soda water. A range of fruit juices will also be welcome, especially orange, pineapple and cranberry. Finally, if you want to create some fun mocktails, add in a bottle of grenadine—perfect for mixing Shirley Temples or simply served with soda water.

Embrace drinks that can be made in large quantities

Nothing’s easier than throwing together a pitcher of sangria (find almost endless variations here) or rum punch (get a simple recipe here), especially if you don’t want to leave the party to keep mixing drinks. Usually these types of drinks are fairly forgiving—so leave the brandy out of the sangria, for example, or use orange juice if you don’t have oranges to add. For the rum punch, go ahead and use juice from concentrate, rather than fresh-squeezed.

Have a blast with a theme

If you’re hosting a Canada Day barbecue, try unstirred grenadine and soda water for a great red-and-white drink, or add a little maple syrup to your Canadian Club Manhattan for a truly Canuck cocktail. Regatta day on the lake? Serve up a Seabreeze (vodka, cranberry and grapefruit juice).

Figure out hacks to make your life easier

A couple of simple hacks will make your life a little easier—leaving more time for enjoying the fruits of your labours. You can make simple syrup—a standard ingredient in many cocktails—without standing over a stove. Instead, combine equal parts sugar and water in a container with a tight lid, and shake until the sugar has dissolved. Or use jam in place of simple syrup to add a fruity sweetness to any drink. Don’t worry about having a proper cocktail shaker or a jigger—a mason jar and measuring spoons will work fine. (There’s a handy conversion chart here.)

What’s your favourite cottage drink?